WASHINGTON (December 5, 2001) -- Cardinal William Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, paid tribute to the accomplishments of Gerhart Riegner, the former general secretary of the World Jewish Council and a pioneer in Christian-Jewish relations.
Dr. Riegner, who died in Geneva December 3 at the age of 90, was the first person to inform world leaders of Hitler's plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe. His warning was met with nearly universal disbelief at the time.
Cardinal Keeler and Cardinal Kasper spoke in Bridgeport where they were attending a conference at the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Sacred Heart University.
Of Dr. Rienhart, Cardinal Keeler said: "He was a man of absolute integrity. In 1942, at great personal risk, he contacted world leaders to tell them of the Holocaust that was entering its horrific final stages. And in 1987, he championed the positive relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people."
"I think Gerhart Riegner was one of the witnesses of our time and played an outstanding role in the relations between Christians and Jews," Cardinal Kasper said. "With his experiences in World War II, he worked for mutual understanding and improving the Church's relationship with Jews. We have lost one of the most important and competent partners in Jewish-Christian dialogue."
On August 11, 1942, Dr. Riegner learned from a German informant of a plan to transfer all the Jews of Europe to concentration camps where they were to be systematically annihilated. He notified the world powers, and in doing so risked his life. He spent much of his life working for reconciliation and dialogue between Christians and Jews.
In addition to being the former general secretary of the World Jewish Council in Geneva, Dr. Riegner was one of the six honorary presidents of the International Council of Christians and Jews, and the founder of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations.
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